Opera Roanoke, Since 1976
Founded in 1976 as the Southwest Virginia Opera Society (SVOS), the company began as a group of dedicated volunteers with two performances of Menotti’s The Consul in spring 1978. Robert Sinclair and Milton Granger directed the early performances of standard operatic masterpieces. They drew from talent within the Roanoke region and played to enthusiastic audiences. The company’s early mentors and advisors were noted Metropolitan Opera stars Eleanor Steber and Irene Dalis.
Under the artistic leadership of Victoria Bond from 1989 to 1995, the company presented singers, instrumentalists, and set designers of increasingly high artistic stature. It affected a name change from SVOS to Opera Roanoke in 1991 to reflect its enhanced professional status. First hired as Resident Director in 1989, Craig Fields was appointed Artistic Director in 1996, a position he held until November 2004. Under his leadership, productions garnered national recognition in publications such as the Metropolitan Opera’s journal Opera News. In December 2004, Steven White was appointed General and Artistic Director. In addition to solidifying an artistic partnership with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Maestro White inaugurated a series of operas in concert that garnered critical and popular acclaim. Masterworks previously unheard in Southwest Virginia like Beethoven’s Fidelio and Verdi’s Shakespeare adaptations, Macbeth and Falstaff joined repertory standards like La Boheme, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro and Hansel and Gretel.
Steven White joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in 2009. Following his Met debut in 2010, Maestro White stepped down as Artistic Director to become Principal Guest Conductor of Opera Roanoke. Scott Williamson, Associate Conductor, Chorus Master and artist with Opera Roanoke since 1998, was appointed the new General and Artistic Director at the start of the 2010-2011 season, Opera Roanoke’s 35th anniversary. The company’s Pearl anniversary season was a banner one, opening with another innovative concert with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra of music from the Faust legend by Berlioz, Boito and Gounod. Celebrated soprano Elizabeth Futral recreated the role written for her in Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera Orpheus and Euridice. With its sold out run of Madama Butterfly, Opera Roanoke launched its first-ever Apprentice Artist Program. With a founding class of six apprentices, Opera Roanoke’s newest outreach initiative has grown to include two-dozen young artists from across Virginia and several neighboring states. Recent milestones include the company’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchmanand Southwest Virginia’s premiere of Handel’s Julius Caesar by a professional opera company. New collaborative partnerships with the Taubman Museum of Art and Virginia Western Community College, host of the Met “Live in HD” broadcasts, find Opera Roanoke thriving in the heart of a vibrant community. An enterprising and resourceful multi-disciplinary organization, Opera Roanoke is a vital component of the cultural and social fabric of life in Roanoke, Virginia’s Blue Ridge and beyond.
Opera Roanoke’s Acclaimed Artists
Since its founding in 1976 as the Southwest Virginia Opera Society, Opera Roanoke has collaborated with the finest talent in our region, across the state and from cultural centers around the nation. Under the direction of Victoria Bond, Craig Fields, Steven White, and Scott Williamson, Opera Roanoke has maintained a reputation for presenting outstanding productions featuring some of the finest singers in the opera world. Metropolitan Opera stars Eleanor Steber and Irene Dalis were among the company’s earliest artistic advisors. Although they did not perform, they mentored many young artists in the company’s fledgling years as a community organization. In recent years, Roanoke has been host to winners of the esteemed Richard Tucker Award, widely regarded as the highest honor for a classical singer in the United States. SopranoAilyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello, who were featured in Vanity Fair magazine, are two Tucker Award-winners to appear with Opera Roanoke.
Tenor Gary Lehman made his Roanoke debut in Beethoven’s Fidelio fresh on the heels of his acclaimed Met debut in the daunting role of Tristan. A Met stalwart for over two decades, Allan Glassman debuted in Opera Roanoke’s gala concert honoring another international opera star, Jane Stuart Smith. Ms. Smith returned to her native Roanoke from Europe upon her retirement. She was fêted as the first American soprano to sing Puccini’s Turandot in Italy. The great American soprano Evelyn Lear was the raison d’etre behind Opera Roanoke’s first Wagner concert in 2009, where she was the honoree of Wagner in the Valley. Elizabeth Futral has performed in the major opera houses around the world and is one of today’s leading lyric coloratura sopranos. She has appeared regularly in concert and recital in Roanoke and reprised a role she created at Lincoln Center for composer Ricky Ian Gordon. Gordon was Opera Roanoke’s special guest at the East coast premiere of his new string orchestra version of Orpheus and Euridice. Former Co-Director of Opera Roanoke’s Apprentice Artist Program, soprano Amy Cofield, covered Renee Fleming’s role debut in La Traviata. Opera Roanoke has also been privileged to welcome to its stage such favorites as William Burden, Kallen Esperian, Yunah Lee, Leah Partridge, Stephen Powell, Richard Troxell, Dinyar Vania, and Richard Zeller.
Opera Roanoke’s artistic staff and guest artists have performed in the world’s most distinguished venues. A selected list of US companies includes the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, and festivals such as Spoleto, Lincoln Center, Mostly Mozart, Glimmerglass, Central City, and Aspen. Our artists have also been featured in international venues, including Italy’s La Scala, Brussels’ La Monnaie, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and opera houses and concert halls across Europe, Central and South America, Taiwan, Korea, China, and Japan.